‘It’s surreal’: Ex-inmate cleared in girl’s 1996 murder
Lamarr Monson rejoiced with family members Friday as a Wayne County judge exonerated him in a 21-year-old murder case.
“It’s surreal,” he said with tears in his eyes as he stood surrounded by relatives in the hallway of Frank Murphy Hall of Justice. “I want to give God the glory.”
Monson’s mother, who said she always believed in her son’s innocence, shouted, “He’s free! He’s free! He’s free!” outside the courthouse as bystanders looked on with smiles.
“I’m happy as I can be,” said Delores Monson.
Monson spent more than 20 years in prison in the 1996 slaying of a 12-year-old Detroit girl, Christina Brown.
Judge Shannon Walker of Wayne County Circuit Court dismissed a first-degree murder charge against Monson after a request by prosecutors due to destruction of evidence and “passage of time,” among other things.
Walker told Monson, “I wish you the very best. ... My only advice to you is to enjoy life.”
In January, Walker had cited two factors in granting Monson a new trial: Monson may have been coerced into confessing to the murder of Brown, whom allegedly lived with and sold drugs with, and because a woman, Shellena Bentley, identified her former boyfriend as the real killer 15 years after Monson was convicted.
Brown was found dead with numerous stab wounds in an apartment in the 2700 block of West Boston Boulevard on Detroit’s west side. Monson and the girl were allegedly living together in an apartment with no heat or water. Monson has said the girl told him she was 17.
An autopsy revealed the girl died from blunt force trauma. Monson, according to prosecutors, told police he was not at the apartment the night before and returned to find the girl covered in blood. Monson later told police, in a second interview, that Brown attacked him in a jealous rage and he stabbed her in self-defense.
A knife found at the scene was not tested for DNA and later lost in a Detroit Police Department property room. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said Friday that other key pieces of evidence found at the murder scene, such as male clothing, was not tested.
Other items that could have been used as evidence in the case were lost of destroyed, while some evidence, such as glass shards with blood on them, was never collected. Years after Monson’s conviction in 1997, some evidence in the case was retested.
A palm print and fingerprints found on a toilet tank lid were identified as belonging to Bentley’s former boyfriend.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said investigators went to Pittsburgh to identify Bentley’s former boyfriend, who is in poor health and denied any involvement in the child’s murder.
Worthy released a statement Friday about the case and Lamarr Monson’s exoneration.
“Christina Brown was a 12-year-old girl who ran away from home and met Lamarr Monson. Her untimely death was violent and brutal,” Worthy said in her statement.
“Due to the destruction of evidence, issues surrounding the way the police obtained Monson’s confession and the passage of time, we are unable to re-try this case. For similar reasons we are not able to charge anyone else in connection with the murder of Christina.”
“The destruction of evidence and the possible coercive conduct of the then-homicide inspector in obtaining the statement of the defendant in this case cannot be condoned,” Worthy said. “Imprisoned defendants will continue to challenge their convictions. The failure of the DPD to retain critical evidence potentially threatens the very foundation of the criminal justice system and the faith placed in it by the people we protect.”
Worthy added that she has met with Detroit Police Chief James Craig about the destruction of evidence in capital cases and said the police chief has agreed to a joint DPD-WCPO work group to develop an evidence retention policy.
David Moran, the director of the University of Michigan’s Innocence project, smiled widely as he stood next to Lamarr Monson, “whose case he took on in 2015. Moran said he was “very happy for this day,” but that the next step is getting justice for the girl who was murdered by bringing her real killer to justice.
“I was expecting that they would have to drop the case,” Moran said. “On the murder weapon, there were 10 fingerprints all belonging to (Bentley’s ex-boyfriend).”
Former WXYZ-TV reporter Bill Proctor, now an innocence activist and private investigator, worked on the story about the murder and was among the well-wishers at Friday’s hearing.
“It was a long time coming,” Proctor said after the charges were dismissed. “The sun couldn’t shine any brighter.”
Proctor founded the SeekingJusticeBP.com, which “provides insight into cases plus the causes and circumstances that lead to wrongful convictions.”